Friday 23 November 2012

Fantasia (1940)

And now for something completely different!

“Fantasia” is something else entirely. It is not quite like anything else I ever saw and since I never saw it before I went to it with some very vague idea of what it would be like only to find that even that was way off.

Basically “Fantasia” is a merger of classical music and animation, a sort of music video anno 1940, but that does not quite describe it. For two hours we get a number of sequences of music accompanied with different types of animation. Those animations range from definite stories of the classical sort (Mickey pulling water, then with a wizard hat on causes havoc when the magic gets out of control) over silly themes (like the dancing hippos) to simple visual impressions of the music in the form of colors and geometrical shapes.

The music is played by a classical orchestra and we see them in silhouette between each sequence while a narrator is introducing the next piece. It gives the impression of being present in the concert hall and as the music starts we close our eyes and see the animation unfolding before our inner sight.

This is not a film to sit down to watch with the family as a movie. It is far too disjointed and incoherent for that. But it is something to relax to. To see a few sequences, while buzzing out. I believe I read somewhere that “Fantasia” was a favorite to see on LSD (along with 2001:A space odyssey). I can believe that but less will do.

Frankly I thought it would be more like traditional cartoons, with lots of Mickey, so I had invited my 2½ year old son to join me watching it. He is going through a Mickey Mouse phase. At first I was disappointed that this was not so. This is much more advanced and adult, really, in format and I thought my son would quickly tire of it. Instead the opposite happened. He totally loves it! And not just the Mickey part. Now he want to bring our portable DVD player everywhere so he can see “Fantasia” from he gets up till he goes to daycare and again from he comes back till he goes to bed. I think he likes it better than I do.

Now, I do not dislike it at all, I just tire more easily. I am falling in love with several of the pieces, partly because the music is excellent, after all these are some of the most well-known classical pieces around, and partly because at least some of the animations have a lot of charm. My personal favorite is the ballet. Just try and imagine vain ostriches, shy hippos in small skirts, feather light blue elephants and a bunch of crocodiles in capes all performing a ballet. It is exactly as silly and charming and totally sweet as it sounds like.

At the other end of the spectrum the sequence with centaurs and cherubs is way over the top kitsch. Here is so much sugar coating that the animation is totally sagging under its own sweetness. Not a favorite of mine.

Then there is a lot more spice in the parts with the history of animal evolution with big roaring dinosaurs and the end sequence with Satan and his hordes. Again the pathos is almost getting the upper hand, this is Disney after all, but as counterweight to centaurs and pegasi it is rather welcome.

Throughout the whole affair my wife kept asking me when this is from not quite believing this to be from 1940. Of course my version has been through some massive restoration, but it is still quite an achievement for 1940. I think much of it could pass for a much more recent date.

I have a feeling I will get to see “Fantasia” quite a lot over the coming weeks and I will probably grow weary of it, but that could be a lot worse. My son could have fallen in love with “Cars”…


  1. Walt Disney was definitely attempting to show that animation was just as respectable as "real" movies at the time. He originally intended to release new versions of Fantasia ever few years with some new sequences in and some old sequences out, but he never did. The Disney company finally released a new version - Fantasia 2000 - that had all new sequences, except for the Mickey Mouse one.

    1. I had no idea they wanted to do that. I think it would have watered down the unique experience Fantasia is so I am happy they did not go through with it. I never saw Fantasia 2000, but as I have a phobia against Disneys mad drive at milking their movies to the last drop I have no ambition of seeing it either. For now I am perfectly happy with the original.

    2. Back then there was no home movie rental market, not even TV syndication. The only way people saw movies was in the theater. It was quite common for movies to be re-released multiple times over the years. Walt Disney's idea was to give these people more for their money by adding in some new sections.

      As for Fantasia 2000 it was a decent movie. Like the original I liked some sequences, while others didn't do much for me. My favorite sequence in the new one was set to Gershwin music and done in an animation style of a famous illustrator contemporary to Gershwin.

    3. Makes sense. Trouble is Disney has continued this policy long after the arguments validity. They are even proud of it. But then of course every new generation of children is a new untapped market, something I am realizing just now with my son. Only Mickey Mouse will do. There are tons of money out there for Disney to pick up and of course they do just that.